Thursday, December 18, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2014


Jillian Banks was simmering last year with her breakthrough track "Waiting Game" and subsequent London EP, and her pan finally boiled over this year with the release of the massive debut album, Goddess. Her voice transforms as she tackles each track, from a low, smokey croon to a lightly-treading songbird. A melting pot of influences ooze over her vocal delivery and musical style, from the late Aaliyah to Lana Del Rey with a dark electronic twist. It's hard to even choose a highlighted handful of tracks because the album is consistently loaded with exemplary pieces. As Banks insinuates in the title track of this album, this Goddess is a force to be reckoned with.


Pure seduction meets hazy R&B under the control of former music video dancer FKA twigs. She dropped two extended plays prior to this full debut album, but twigs pulls out all of the stops for LP1. Her fragile vocals soar over some strange beats, deep synths, and echoing ad-libs as she sings of sex, love, and corruption. In some tracks, we find twigs heartbroken and stabbed in the back by an ex-lover, while in others, she lusts after her next desire and at one point pleads, "I'll do everything to make it better, babe / I'll do anything." With an album as strong as LP1, it'll be quite a surprise what happens on (presumably) LP2.


Tragic songwriting and lush landscapes are Lana Del Rey's forte, and she only changed a few variables in that equation for Ultraviolence, her follow-up to her major-label debut album, Born to Die. However, this time around, she paired up with The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach to add a grittier edge to her subtle cinematic boom. She's not as timid this time around to utilize her upper-register as a stunning force ("Shades of Cool," "Money Power Glory"), rather than the cutesy squeals she used strategically on Born to Die tracks like "Off to the Races." Del Rey doesn't forget the low, smokey notes and heartbreaking lyrical handiwork that made her famous either; one listen to the title track proves this standing alone.


Who knew the next person to utilize a Beyoncé-style release would be Harlem-native Azealia Banks with her debut album, Broke with Expensive Taste? The album may have sat on record executives' desks for over two years before she broke free as an independent artist, but its utilization of timeless influences renders it a gleaming set, even by this year's standards. Using house music as her sturdy base, Banks splashes salsa, electronic dance, and pop effects in all of the right places and orchestrates a luxurious landscape to rap and sing over. She warps her voice constantly on the album, from a quality club singer on "Chasing Time" to no-nonsense rapper on "Heavy Metal & Reflective," but still conveys talent with each and every shift.


Many people say that parenthood brings forth a newfound happiness in first-time mothers. Need proof? Look at Lights and her bubbling synthpop luminosity on her third studio album, Little Machines. The album came to us after the birth of Lights' first child with husband Beau Bokan and, judging by the cuts off of this set, she couldn't be happier. While Lights experimented with heavy, chunky dubstep sounds on Siberia, her musical direction has resolved into a lighter, warmer note on Little Machines. Her voice still broke through the dark sea of synths on her last album, but her instrumental tastes on this new suite of tracks complement her voice in a new way. 


Who knew that Taylor Swift would make a better pop artist than a country artist? 1989 blasted Taylor Swift directly to the forefront of pop culture and she was more than prepared for chart domination by stuffing her musical arsenal with collaborations from Max Martin, Jack Antonoff, Ryan Tedder, and Imogen Heap. Lyrically, she has transformed before our eyes from an obsessive, heartbroken teenager to a romantic storyteller than only hints at past relationships to complete the story she is trying to tell. The album is the most commercially-successful set to be released this year after selling over one million copies in its first week, allowing Swift to surpass her closest competitors to the top spot with ease, and it has the quality to justify that success.


For her sophomore album, The Golden Echo, Grammy Award-winning artist Kimbra acknowledges her secluded recording sessions and experimentation behind the soundboards. Luckily, she knew exactly what she was doing. The Golden Echo resonates from beginning to end with combinations of strange sounds that fall perfectly into place as Kimbra radiates her vocal power over her chaotic orchestra. While her debut effort, Vows, wavered between synthpop and a fusion of pop and R&B, The Golden Echo consistently remains genre-less in a summery haze of funky beats, organic instrumental usage, and well-executed climaxes. 


Her face might not have been present in this album's packaging and promotional meetings, but her voice is definitely recognizable. With one creepy music video starring a child dancer in a blonde bob, unprecedented powerhouse vocals, and lyrics dripping with emotion, Sia has ironically gotten more attention than ever before while begging not to be noticed at all. Even when it is layered over with the average pop production tactics on 1000 Forms of Fear, Sia's voice alone can convey more than enough emotion to force a listener to give her their complete and undivided attention. From beginning to end, 1000 Forms of Fear displays both the dynamic vocal power and unrivaled songwriting skills of Sia.


Years after their debut album dropped, La Roux finally made a reappearance this summer with the 1980s-tinged Trouble in Paradise. The duo dissolved to a solo effort by Elly Jackson, and she managed to steer her sound in a new direction. While La Roux's self-titled debut was filled with darker synths and haunting melody lines, Trouble in Paradise throws listeners back to the 1980s; imagine Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" blended with synthpop and a quality vocalist on the lead. While the album ends on a massive misstep of a track titled "The Feeling," the other eight tracks that made the cut are sultry synthpop jams. For all of the Trouble in Paradise weighing Elly Jackson down, she sure did come back with a kick.


Originally earning a three-star review, Ariana Grande's My Everything seemed like an average pop album upon an initial listen. However, four months after its release, Grande's sophomore album has been able to withstand multiple replays and retain its fresh, fun qualities. This album's longevity was able to push it into the top ten of this year's best albums, just as other albums' lack of longevity pushed them out of the top ten line-up. My Everything is four singles strong now and Grande shows no signs of stopping as she rolls into the new year with her first arena tour in support of the album. If she keeps up this breakneck improvement pace and maintains her voice without driving it to prematurely age and crack (see: Mariah Carey), she could easily be in the business for a very long time.

1 comment

  1. Random: I love how you formatted this post. It's classy. :) A+

    Like I've said, I rarely ever truly love full albums, so I just have a top three from this year and I don't think I'll bother with a post about it. Mine would look like:

    3. Aftermath by Amy Lee
    2. Hydra by Within Temptation
    1. The Quantum Enigma by Epica


© Aural Fixation